CDTS306: Sustainable management of marine resources through national marine park establishment – a case study of the UK

   School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr Lynda Rodwell, Dr Tomas Chaigneau, Ms Elaine Hayes, Dr Emma Sheehan  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The sustainable management of marine resources requires greater understanding of social and ecological systems. How humans choose to use the environment is influenced by their connection with it, their understanding, knowledge and respect for it. National Marine Parks (NMPs) are a tool for enhancing that connection. If developed well and in collaboration with local communities these can be used for the enhancement of ecological, social and economic benefits. This PhD will focus on how to optimise the benefits associated with the establishment of National Marine Parks whilst minimising the costs to vulnerable communities. Plymouth Sound National Marine Park, UK’s first NMP, will be used as a case study example. The findings are intended to inform the development and establishment of future national marine parks in the UK to achieve optimal outcomes in terms of the management of marine resources in UK waters for people and the planet.

‘National Marine Parks’ globally are commonly associated with marine protection. These marine protected areas (MPAs) are often established with ecological objectives in mind and the subsequent socio-economic consequences of their establishment have been well-researched (e.g. Thur 2010, Oberholver et al. 2010, Bennett and Dearden 2014). The focus of this PhD will be on National Marine Parks in the UK, the establishment of which has been motivated by economic and social drivers such as prosperity, citizen engagement and welfare rather than marine protection. This research has the unique opportunity therefore to explore the consequences of this approach for the sustainable management of the marine environment as well as for the intended social and economic beneficiaries such as local communities. Unlike MPAs, NMPs in the UK do not have protective legislation associated with them and so represent an alternative form of governance. This PhD will investigate whether NMPs in the UK can achieve ecologically positive outcomes for the marine environment within the existing governance framework.


“A [National] Marine Park is a specially recognised coastal or marine space important for its environment and community health and wellbeing. [National] Marine Park status will encourage greater prosperity, responsible enjoyment, deeper knowledge and enhanced appreciation of the natural world and our place within it” (Plymouth Sound National Marine Park Declaration of Intent, 2019).

As this definition of an NMP in the UK suggests the driving forces behind the concept are primarily social and economic (prosperity, enjoyment, knowledge) meeting the needs of maritime industries and local communities whilst the underlying message is the appreciation of the natural environment and its conservation. A NMP in the UK is therefore quite a different concept to that of a marine protected area in the sense that it has a different starting point – the social and economic drivers of stakeholder engagement and prosperity for local communities rather than the protection of the natural environment. The recent output of the UK NMP Strategic Working Group defined the purpose of an NMP to be “Connecting people with their seascape to share in a sustainable future” (BMF 2023). An NMP in the UK does not have a legislative driver enforcing restrictions on human behaviours that are deemed harmful to the marine environment. Instead the governance structure forms an umbrella over existing designations and encourages adherence to the goals of the NMP through stakeholder engagement.

The Plymouth Sound National Marine Park was formally launched in 2019, with support from the UK Government’s Environment Secretary. This was supported by a declaration of intent from Plymouth City Council to work together for public benefit:

The National Marine Park has been developed collaboratively, declared locally, and delivered through a spirit of opportunity…. We will become the UK’s first National Marine Park and be a proving ground for others to follow this innovative new approach. This declaration signals a citywide commitment to work with Government, stakeholders and citizens to develop a blueprint for National Marine Parks that can be replicated nationwide”.

As the first of its kind in the UK, we are well placed in Plymouth to identify the challenges and opportunities associated with NMP establishment and what this means for local communities, businesses and the environment. This PhD will play a significant role in answering key research questions which will help the city and future designations of NMP meet their full potential.

Aim: To determine how to ‘optimise’ the benefits of NMP establishment to enhance the management of the marine environment


Applicants should have a first or upper second-class honours degree in an appropriate subject and either a relevant masters qualification or a wider range of experience in a relevant career path (which is equally as important).

Each applicant may apply for a studentship on up to three CDT SuMMeR projects. Where more than one project is applied for, the supervisors of all those projects will be made aware that other applications have been made.

The studentship is supported for 3 years and 8 months. All UKRI-funded PhD students (UK, EU, International) will be eligible for the full award – both the stipend to support living costs (£18,622 per academic year at full time equivalent at the 2023/24 rate), and fees at the research organisation’s UK rate. International students are eligible for UKRI-funded postgraduate studentships but UKRI will limit the proportion of international students appointed each year through individual doctoral training programmes to 30% of the intake per cohort. CDT SuMMeR’s funding will not cover international fees set by universities; applicants normally required to pay international fees may have to cover the difference between the home and the international tuition fee rates (approximately £12,697 per annum). Please enquire with the lead supervisor on the situation regarding international fees for the project you are interested in. CDT SuMMeR’s funding will not cover costs associated with visa application or health surcharges, or additional costs associated with entry to, and living in, the UK. For EU and international eligibility for UKRI studentships, see UKRI’s guidance.

In case of uncertainty, applicants should contact the planned university of registration for eligibility advice, or the CDT SuMMeR Programme Office: [Email Address Removed]

Architecture, Building & Planning (3) Biological Sciences (4) Business & Management (5) Economics (10) Environmental Sciences (13) Geography (17)

Funding Notes

CDT SuMMeR studentships are partially funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), which applies the eligibility criteria laid down by its parent body, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and co-funded by the respective Hosting Partner institutes. UKRI provides details on its training grants in its Terms and Conditions for Training Funding document, including its Training Grant Guide, which can be found on the UKRI website


• Bennett, N.J. and Dearden, P., 2014. Why local people do not support conservation: Community perceptions of marine protected area livelihood impacts, governance and management in Thailand. Marine policy, 44, pp.107-116.
• Blue Marine Foundation (2023): Guidance for National Marine Park Evolution. A report by Natasha Bradshaw, Lucy Clutton and Sam Fanshawe (September 2023). Available at:
• Breslow, S.J., Sojka, B., Barnea, R., Basurto, X., Carothers, C., Charnley, S., Coulthard, S., Dolšak, N., Donatuto, J., García-Quijano, C. and Hicks, C.C., 2016. Conceptualizing and operationalizing human wellbeing for ecosystem assessment and management. Environmental Science & Policy, 66, pp.250-259.
• Oberholzer, S., Saayman, M., Saayman, A. and Slabbert, E., 2010. The socio-economic impact of Africa's oldest marine park. Koedoe: African Protected Area Conservation and Science, 52(1), pp.1-9.
• Ostrom, E. (2009). A General Framework for Analyzing Sustainability of Social-Ecological Systems. Science, 325(5939), 419–422.
• Plymouth Sound National Marine Park Declaration of Intent, 2019 Available at:
• Rees, S.E., Ashley, M., Beaumont, K., Mullier, T. 2023. State of the Sound, Final Report - Using Natural Capital and Ecosystem Service Indicators to demonstrate the quality and quantity of natural assets in Plymouth Sound National Marine Park and the social and economic benefits provided to society. A report to Plymouth City Council by research staff at the University of Plymouth. Pp
Thur, S.M., 2010. User fees as sustainable financing mechanisms for marine protected areas: An application to the Bonaire National Marine Park. Marine policy, 34(1), pp.63-69.